public safety

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The holiday season is here. For many that means traveling, shopping and celebrating – all of which can pose certain safety issues. Here’s a rundown of holiday safety tips, and info about city services offered over the winter holidays:

Auto-Burglary Awareness Program

In Texas, a vehicle is broken into every 2.5 minutes, and auto-burglaries escalate during the holiday season.  With the holiday season upon us, local law enforcement is raising awareness over auto burglaries.  

The Austin Police Department's Auto Theft Interdiction Project suggests that you take the following actions to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of auto burglary:

  • Lock your car and take your keys
  • Park in well-lit areas
  • Don’t leave valuables in plain view
  • Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings      
  • Avoid carrying a large amount of cash or credit cards
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Central Texas is helping those in Moore, Oklahoma and surrounding areas in relief and rescue efforts.

Last night, Texas Task Force 1 was dispatched to Oklahoma, an elite search and rescue team which includes 5 members from the Austin Fire Department.

friendsofthehollow.com

Update: Travis County Parks reversed its decision to change boating rules at Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis at a public meeting last night.

In fact, after about a week of tension between Travis County Parks and people who frequent Hippie Hollow, the meeting ended with laughter and applause.

“This is a great example of a grass roots movement. Where people are trying to reach out the administrators who work in their government and the guys come to the table and listen to what the folks have to say,” Friends of the Hollow member Randall Huntsinger said.

JD Hancock/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/

There’s an ongoing dispute in and around Pflugerville about how much fire and emergency services protection the area wants, and how much it’s willing to pay. The firefighters local wants to meet a number of national standards for service levels.

“We’re just trying to meet those standards and possibly exceed them,” said firefighters association spokesman Trevor Stokes. “We’re not doing that currently.”

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It’s the second day of the year and Austin already has two traffic fatalities.

An Austin man and his 13 year-old son died in a motorcycle crash yesterday. Neither was wearing a helmet even though Texas law requires anyone under 21 to wear a helmet.

People over 21 have to maintain a certain level of health insurance or they have to have taken a motorcycle safety course to ride without a helmet legally. Before 1997, all motorcycle riders had to wear helmets.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Austin's Public Safety Commission will stay busy this evening discussing a medley of public safety topics:

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The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services department is warning drivers to be on high alert for deer in the road during November and December.

These two months are what’s known as the “rut,” or deer mating season. During this time, deer can be inattentive to their surroundings and are more likely to dart out into the road and into the path of an oncoming car.

According to data released by the City of Austin and APD, there were 50 deer-involved collisions in 2011.  There have been 11 so far this year. Nationwide, research has found that approximately 200 people a year in the United States die in deer-related car accidents. Eighteen percent of all accidents involving deer occur during November. December is the third most common month for accidents involving deer.

flickr.com/rutlo

The hit-and-run death of a bicyclist on an Austin road this weekend was the 11th fatal incidence of a failure to stop and render aid this year, according to Austin Police.

The incident occurred early Sunday morning. Cyclist Robert Anthony Ramirez was on the Congress Avenue Bridge when police say he was struck by motorist Brian Adam Mahy:

On Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 4:34 a.m., Austin Police responded to an auto/bicyclist crash at 100 South Congress Avenue. The bicyclist was operating a bicycle southbound in the far right lane of the Congress Bridge. According to witnesses, a black Ford Mustang was operating at a high rate of speed in the center lane of southbound Congress Avenue. The Mustang then passed another vehicle to the right, placing him in the same lane as the bicyclist. The Mustang crashed into the bicyclist, then left the scene and did not stop to render aid to the bicyclist.

Ramirez was pronounced deceased at the scene. Mahy turned himself into police afterward, and was charged with second-degree felony intoxication manslaughter and third-degree felony failure to stop and render aid.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

A recent emergency call that went out to Austin-area residents worked, according to police. But judging from a statement the authorities released regarding the message, it may have frayed some nerves in the process.

Over the weekend, the Austin Police Department utilized the Emergency Notification System (ENS) to develop leads related to a missing persons case. Functioning like a 911 call in reverse, the ENS system is utilized by several Central Texas counties to relay information over the phone in case of emergency.

“The activation worked as intended. We received at least two calls from citizens who listened to the ENS announcement,” Austin Police write in a statement released this afternoon. “They provided helpful information to help locate the missing elderly woman.”

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

A shooting that left three dead in College Station on Monday did not occur on the campus of Texas A&M University or involve members of the A&M community. Yet in headlines around the country, it is being referred to as the "Texas A&M shooting."

With new students scheduled to move into A&M's residence halls on Sunday, this has left the university with a bit of a public relations problem that officials are scrambling to rectify.

"It’s extremely important for us that our new students coming into campus and their families understand that this is a very safe campus," said A&M spokesman Jason Cook. "We truly care about the safety of our students and we have many, many safety measures in place."

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Capital Metro is upgrading rail warning systems at some private MetroRail crossings.

Jeremy Barta, 32, of Austin was killed and his two children were injured when their car was hit by train at a private crossing in April.

Cap Metro now plans to install flashing warning lights at six crossings. The company will install the lights at one crossing per year for the next six years – at a cost of about $200,000 per crossing.

Ambulance photo Daniel Reese for KUT News; all other photos credit KUT News.

Update: The city has  finalized the fall 2012 ballot since this post was originally written. For a look at the City of Austin's ballot propositions, read "The 18 Propositions Before Austin Voters This November." 

Original post: While a potential 10-district scenario for electing Austin City Council members – and the council’s controversial decision to put a competing “hybrid” plan on the same ballot – may be getting the most attention when it comes to November’s city charter election, those aren’t the only items Austin voters will face.

Not by a long shot.

By KUT News’ estimation, 11 items are in the bag already, set to be put before Austin voters. And two other potential changes to the city charter – Austin’s governing document – are still a distinct possibility.

Some are small housekeeping measures. Others could impact how the city runs for decades to come. But as a charter election can only be held once every two years, when voters head to the polls  they’ll face a dozen or so proposed charter changes.  Here, we run them all down.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

The Austin Fire Department responded to two deadly house fires and a third that injured a person yesterday.

Fire Department Spokesperson Michelle DeCrane says that the tragedies might have been prevented if the homes had smoke detectors.

"The most important thing is everybody needs to have working smoke alarm – I cannot overemphasize how important that is," DeCrane says. "It is the cheapest life insurance money can buy, and it can buy you invaluable time to get out of your home in the event of a fire.”

If you do not have smoke alarms or can’t afford to buy them, the Austin Fire Department has a program to help you out. Click here or call 974-0299 for more information.

Kelly Connelly for KUT News

Here's one heck of a lunch topic: Responding to a terrorist attack in downtown Austin during South by Southwest.

That was one of the noontime subjects city officials considered yesterday, in a workshop discussing their role in case of catastrophe – such as terrorism, an infrastructure collapse or a natural disaster.

Attendees, including the members of the Austin City Council, considered a range of worst-case scenarios. One was that SXSW attack: “It is a beautiful morning in Austin – bustling, with SXSW in full swing,” a planning scenario posited. “Without warning a large explosion rocks downtown Austin … Confirmed fatalities – 83; Injuries – 200+ (some key officials and staff are known to be among them.)”

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Some 30 people gathered in front of City Hall yesterday, as part of a city-organized “flash mob” raising awareness of disaster preparedness.

The kid-aimed event began with a question-and-answer session for the little ones, complete with emergency pack prizes. Then it was time for the main event: a group dance to a hip-hop inflected preparedness song.  

Photo by KUT News

Austin's "No Refusal" weekends are going statewide. Over the past two years, Austin has implemented "No Refusal" DWI enforcement around major holidays and events like Mardi Gras.

But for the first time ever, over 200 law enforcement agencies across the state will join the no-refusal enforcement effort this weekend.

"No refusal" means a driver cannot refuse a breathalyzer test if pulled over and accused of driving under the influence.

Image courtesy mirsasha http://www.flickr.com/photos/mirsasha/

The Austin Police Department just announced the 47th and 48th traffic fatalities of the year.  This time last year, there had been 58 traffic deaths reported in Austin. It's a decrease of about 20 percent.

The 47th fatality was a 76-year-old man who crossed the center line while driving down Anderson Mill Road and smashed into another vehicle just after 4 pm yesterday. Police don't believe alcohol or speed was a factor.